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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter IV - Earldom and Earls of Erroll
Section V


FRANCIS, NINTH EARL OF ERROLL—FEUD BETWEEN THE G0RDONS AND THE HAYS, GORDON OF GIGHT’S PROCEEDINGS—HIS TRIAL ADJOURNED, RESUMED, AND AGAIN ADJOURNED—SETTLEMENT OF THE FEUD.

SOMETIMES rather serious differences arose between the Lord High Constable and Earl Marischal touching the respective functions and duties of their offices. This usually occurred on points of duty when Parliament was sitting. On the 2nd of July, 1606, the Privy Council passed an Act touching the "privilege and liberty claimed by either of them to the keeping of the keys of the Parliament House. And the Lords of the Council, being well advised, and having heard all that was proposed and alleged by both the parties in this matter, and having heard the statements of several persons regarding the form and order observing by them in preceding Parliaments: The Lords of the Council find and declare—That the keeping of the keys of the Parliament House and the guarding of the utter bar and gates thereof appertains to the Constable"

It appears, however, that George, fifth Earl Marischal, was not satisfied with above decision. In July, the following year, the Privy Council passed another Act touching this matter:—"Forasmuch as a motion has been made to the Lords of the Privy Council, alleging some prejudice done to him, by the Lords of Council in the privilege of his office of Marischalship, during the last Parliament, held at Perth, by finding that the keys of the Parliament House ought to be delivered and kept by the Lord High Constable, which the Marischal alleges to be due to him by the privilege of his office and bygone custom: And touching an ambiguous word in the last act, that the guarding of the utter bar of the Parliament House appertains to the Lord High Constable: and William Hay, agent to the Lord Constable, being called and heard in the matter, and all that the Earl Marischal and he had to say or allege being heard by the Lords of Council and considered: The Lords of Council for avoiding heat, strife, and contention between Earl Marischal and the High Constable, and their deputies, and for explanation of their first Act—declare, as before, that the keeping of the keys of the Parliament House appertains to the High Constable, and the guarding and keeping of the utter gates of the Parliament House also appertains to the High Constable; and that he and his deputies have the charge and command of all outside the gates of the Parliament House: That the meaning and intention of the word utter bar, was nothing else but the utter gates: And declare that the guarding of the inner bar and the charge of all within the gates and doors of the Parliament House appertain to Earl Marischal."

In spite of the bond of friendship so carefully formed between the first Marquis of Huntly and Francis, ninth Earl of Erroll, a feud arose between the Gordons and the Hays of the north. The feud was caused by George Gordon of Gight. The Gordons of Gight were descended from Sir William Gordon, third son of George, second Earl of Huntly. Of all the branches of the Gordons, the Gight family was the most turbulent and violent.

George Gordon of Gight was a remarkably headstrong and unruly individual, and firmly attached to the Roman Catholic Church. A brother of his was slain in a quarrel with Francis Hay, and in revenge for this, Gordon seized Hay, and under a guard conveyed him to Aberdeen, in December, 1615. There Francis Hay underwent a mock trial before John Gordon, sheriff-depute of Aberdeen, and a packed jury connected with the Gordons, He was condemned, of course, and then carried to the back green of a private house in the Gallowgate, and there beheaded.

The following year, in the month of February, Gordon of Gight proceeded with an armed force of men, on horse and foot, to a field near the burn of Cruden, and there attacked three young brothers—known as the Hays of Brunthill—and two of them were severely wounded. They were relatives of the late Francis Hay, who was executed in the Gallowgate by the Gordons.

The trial of the Laird of Gight for these crimes was fixed to take place in Edinburgh on the 28th of August, 1616. All the Gordons of the north, with the Marquis of Huntly as their chief, ranged themselves on one side of the feud, and all the Hays of the north with the Earl of Erroll as their chief, placed themselves on the other side. Thus, it was to be a very important "day of law" in Edinburgh. The utmost precautions had to be taken to preserve the peace in and around the Tolbooth of Edinburgh.

On the appointed day the trial commenced, and the Earl of Erroll and other representatives of the Hays appeared. There were long preliminary statements made and arguments presented by counsel on both sides; but after these proceedings, the case was indefinitely adjourned.

The case was resumed the following year. On the i6th of January, 1617, George Gordon of Gight appeared before the Lords of the Privy Council and complained that he had been wrongfully put to the horn for not entering into ward to answer these charges—I, the persuit of William, George, and Patrick Hay; 2, the slaughter of Francis Hay; and 3, his not appearing to answer the complaint touching the trouble between him and the brethren of Brunthill. "As he was never lawfully charged to enter his person or to appear, and as he had found caution in 6000 merks to appear this day, and will make payment of 200 merks to the treasurer for his escheat, he pleaded that the hornings should be suspended." The pursuer and the King’s Advocate appeared personally, and the Lords in respect of the Laird of Gight’s appearance before them, suspended the letters of homing. They ordered him to find caution in a sum of 5000 merks to keep the peace and appear before them to answer for his crimes, and to find caution in the books of adjournal for his appearance before the Justice, under the penalty of 5000 merks. Caution to be found within 48 hours.

The 26th of February, 1617, was fixed for the trial of Gordon of Gight. Five of the Lords of the Privy Council were appointed assessors to the Justice who was to try the case.

At this "day of law" the Government anticipated that there would be present in Edinburgh a number of noblemen, barons, and gentlemen—friends of either party, between whom there was already heart-burning, private grudge, and discontent, and, so it was likely enough that some trouble might arise:-

"Therefore the Lords of the Privy Council command letters to be directed charging the officers at arms to proceed to the Market Cross of Edinburgh, and there by open proclamation to command and charge George, Marquis of Huntly, as chief of the said Laird of Gight, and Francis, Earl of Erroll, as chief of the late Francis Hay, and the brothers (Hays) of Brunthill, as also the parties themselves, and all the noblemen, barons, and gentlemen of their name, and all their servants, followers, and dependants, who are already come to this burgh or shall come to attend and wait upon the said day, for assisting and backing of any of the parties—that they immediately proceed to their lodgings within this burgh and continue therein, and no-ways come forth therefrom without licence of the Lords of Council sought and obtained. And that the parties themselves in noways presume to come to the Justice Court until the magistrates of Edinburgh come and make convey to the court, under the pain of rebellion.... And, suchlike to command, charge, and inhibit all persons, that none of them be found walking upon the streets of this burgh after the ringing of the ten o’clock bell at night, under the penalty of being apprehended, imprisoned, and punished."

The court held eight sittings on the trial of the Laird of Gight. Able counsel were engaged on both sides, and many technical objections and long arguments were adduced. But on the 13th of March, the Lords of the Council ordered the trial to be posponed to the 18th of June. It seems that the King had intervened, as he was on grounds of policy very anxious to put an end to this great feud between the Gordons and Hays, and perhaps he wished to save the Laird of Gight.

When the 18th of June came, it appeared that the King had taken the matter into his own hands. Accordingly, letters were sent to the Marquis of Huntly and the Earl of Erroll, directing them to come to Edinburgh on the 8th of September, in a peaceable manner, accompanied only by their household servants; the Marquis of Huntly to bring Gight and John Gordon with him, and Erroll to bring the brethren of Brunthill.

On the 10th of September, 1677, George, Marquis of Huntly, George, Lord Gordon, William Gordon of Gight, Sir Alexander Gordon of Cluny, Gordon of Abergeldie, and John Gordon of Buckie, on the one side, and Francis, Earl of Erroll, Lord Hay, Hay, a brother of the Earl, and the Hays of Brunthill on the other side, appeared before the Privy Council. And it was intimated to them that the King had pronounced his decree arbitral on the matters in question between them; and that it was the King’s will that, before disclosing to them the terms of his decree, they should be reconciled, agreed, and promise to abide by the King’s decree. They were then asked if they were all content to submit to his Majesty’s decree? They declared that with all reverence and humility they would acquiesce to his Majesty’s will and pleasure. Therefore, to show their willing obedience to the King, they shook hands with one another and promised to bury all former enmity standing amongst them. Thus ended the feud between the Gordons and the Hays.


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